Ordinary, said Aunt Lydia, is what you are used to

November 29, 2008

Hat tip to Brian Sherwood Jones for this scary quote from Ron Suskind writing in the New York Times back in 2004 (the aide is from the Bush White House):

The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

Brian’s note to me read as follows:

I put the quote below my signature into my outlook signature because it was so striking, and had made the observation that the Bush administration was essentially working in the chaotic domain. Then I read this in your complex acts of knowing, which took on a whole new meaning

We use the domain of chaos to disrupt in advance of need, in order to breakdown inappropriate or over restrictive models, combined with constrained starvation, pressure and acess to new concepts and ideas.

Now this is a very interesting observation. The Cynthia and I originally wrote those words we were using them in the context of innovation, shifting people into a space where old patterns and models could not be sustained so they would see the world in a different way, opening up new possibilities. We were being optimistic. Brian has pointed to a negative use, deliberately creating or sustaining a chaotic environment to allow an ideological construct to be imposed. We saw this in the collapse of the Weimar Republic; one of the most interesting periods of history, so well captured in my favourite film of all time Cabaret. Now the quote is from 2004, it took four years for reality to catch up and the recent US election may have averted for the period what had appeared to be an increasing progression to the dystopian future envisaged by Margaret Attwood in The Handmaid’s Tale . The title of this blog by the way is drawn from that book.

However the degree to which an ideological position can distort reality is one of the most scary, and the most frequent phenomena in human history, not just at the level of the state, but also within companies. The quote which opened this post could also come from many a CEO taking over a company in crisis. It shows the moral poverty of social constructivism and moral relativism and the need for a new theory of objectivism, by which I do not mean the evil of the Randinistas one of the pages on Wikipedia I monitor with care. Kaufmann in Reinventing the Sacred offers an interesting pathway here by the way, in a badly written book with enough brilliant insight to make it worth reading. Blog link to a video here by the way. The Enlightenment emphasised the concept of reason and gave birth to democracy. OK the concept of reason was increasingly linked to Newtonian and reductionist empiricism which engendered the anti-theses of post-modernism, social constructivism etc. That we now know to be limited. However we need, and the world needs a science based re-discovery of reason if the ideological horror of the opening quote is to be avoided.

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